I’m grateful to have gotten phone service back today after more than a week without; and to get a call from dermatology that it was a basal cell and it’s all gone; and to have had stamina and strength to start playing with a rough draft of the rock garden; and for the first iris to bloom, and the last tulips, and the first lilacs, and for the Fuji apple blossoms. I’m grateful that Stellar was happy today: happy to eat, happy to walk, happy to nap, happy just to hang out with me all day.
After the snow, everything rebounded remarkably. The pink honeysuckle whose limbs had been bent to the ground stood tall and fleshed out with plenty more blossoms, and was full of bees for weeks. A few iris flowers froze but no one stalk completely died, and they continue to bud and bloom their last few, three weeks later.
The Siberian honeysuckle vine began to open as the pink honeysuckle tree slowed, and bumblebees of all kinds are all over it.
It’s interesting to notice how tense my life becomes without reliable water. For a week the switch on the pressure tank has been failing, and the plumber has been swamped with the more urgent task of repairing a broken water main that supplies a whole neighborhood. I could have found someone else, but I just found him, and I like him, and he’s good. So we waited. When the tank drained and the pump didn’t kick on, I went out and jiggled the switch. As each day passed, the switch failed more frequently, until each time the tank drained I had to jiggle the switch.
It’s a good thing I meditate. We cut back our use of water to necessity, and all the garden got thirsty, but the seedlings and transplants remained a priority, as well as drinking water for people and pets, water for face and hand washing, and of course ice cubes, for cocktails. We were never in dire straits. We were in anxious straits. And that anxiety, despite being modulated by daily meditation, strained my equanimity. I felt tight, and less than whole, simply because the water could at any moment quit altogether. And I realized how thoroughly the structure of my day depends on reliable, constant water. How lucky we are!
He came this morning and replaced the switch. I feel I can breathe freely again. And so I am back to spending hours a day moving hoses and sprinklers, hearing that darn pump grind comfortingly at regular intervals. Within two weeks of having a four-inch snow with one-inch water content, we are enjoying 90 degree days and the garden is in full bloom. We are all thirsty all the time. And now, for awhile, we have peace of mind. And showers.
The big winds we had Sunday and Monday must have blown open the mechanical room door. I hardly went outside the whole 48 blustery hours, after battening down (almost) all the hatches in the hours before the “wind event” started. Once the clouds cleared the night dropped to nine degrees, and the water pipe between the pump and the pressure tank froze. When I woke yesterday morning all I knew was that there was no water in the house.
Here is an instance where I can recognize the benefits of daily meditation. I said Oh, and was glad I had filled the pitcher the night before, poured some for the cats and the coffee kettle. I broke the thin ice on the pond to bring up a bucket of water to flush the toilet. Suddenly the orchids I forgot to water the previous two days were in desperate need. I left a faucet open while I meditated, and when it began to trickle I ran all the faucets one by one. Once they were all primed I felt competently satisfied. A little later I heard a strange sound: out in the room with pump, water heaters, solar controllers and batteries: a geyser shooting at the north wall!
I flipped the pump breaker and shut the valve to the house. I realized later I could have run inside and run water into the sinks to help empty the pressure tank, cutting down the flood in the mechanical room. But I never felt the frustration and blame I once would have in this situation. I called my regular plumber. He was swamped, but said he’d come at the end of the day if I couldn’t find someone else. I called a number of plumbers, spoke to several pleasant people, and found one happy to come by around four. Then went back to work. All with remarkable calm.
I knew I washed my hands a lot during a day; I was more amused than frustrated to note just how many times I reached for the faucet or wished I could. Oh the sweet relief of hot water and soap! I felt so grateful to be able to wash the dishes. I had a lovely day despite the in-house drought. And I filled the pitcher and watering cans just in case last night.
This morning I was still thrilled to have running water! I tried out this turmeric lemonade recipe: 4 c. cold water, 2 T powdered turmeric, 4T maple syrup, and the juice of one lemon. Eh. I added the juice of one whole lime and a splash of cayenne, all in a quart jar, shook and chilled it and shook before drinking. Yum, finally! I’ve tried the capsules, but can’t even remember my regular vitamins half the time; I’ve tried the golden milk but don’t want to mess with that at bedtime and don’t really care for the flavor. This will be a great tonic to sip on throughout a hot summer day when I’m in and out gardening.
In between editing audio meditations and video yoga, I’ve been getting outside to dabble in the garden again, on mild days for the past month. The first slow flat stretch of the roller coaster has begun. Cutting back dried stems, mindful of possible preying mantis or other egg cases; raking winter windfall leaves and snowbreak stalks, pruning broken limbs, trimming thymes, pulling off old iris leaves where new green tips stick up. Clearing the early-spring bulb bed. These first splashes of color signal the end of winter. We’ll see more snows, maybe some big snows, but they’ll melt within a few days and the flowers will appreciate the moisture. As sure as anything, there’s no stopping their reach for the sun.
I can’t comprehend how fast time has flown the past six weeks. Weeks as fast as days, days like minutes. There are so many ways to measure time. When I was in my thirties I eschewed clocks. In my forties I wore a watch, feeling a need to be reminded that time was passing. I gave up the watch in favor of a white plastic round clock I bought at a yard sale for fifty cents, which I could hear ticking throughout the whole house. Some years ago I was suddenly fed up with the ticking clock, and gave it back to another yard sale. Now I have a tiny computer in my pocket or my purse nearly all the time that I can check any time, and there’s no ticking clicking away the seconds of my life. And still, time careers recklessly forward and I cannot get it to slow down. Especially in the garden.
I’ve been measuring time the past few weeks in irises. Through the (speeding) years I’ve planted a number of them that various people have given me. It always takes a couple of years for a new batch of rhizomes to bloom, and until last year they hadn’t done particularly well in my yard. I figured out that, like so many drought tolerant plants, they do much better when they get plenty of water. Don’t let anyone tell you that irises don’t need much water. They don’t ~ unless you want them to bloom. This year the May garden exploded with colors, including two I’d not seen before. A little dwarf brown iris that my dear neighbor gave me opened first, and I didn’t get a picture and I thought there’d be more time. It was just that one bloom, but the first after two years in the ground. Then they started bursting open with color and fragrance everywhere, and blowing my mind. First one color would open a few blooms, then another. I can’t remember where each variety came from, and wish I’d written them down.
The Japanese iris below came from a friend who shared her garden with neighbors before she moved away. Their cluster gets bigger and bolder every year, and the digger bees are crazy about the streamlined flowers. The center died away a few years ago and a columbine filled it in.
Some of the other bearded irises, the white white and the frilly purple below, and maybe a couple of others, came from a wonderful woman who was in her nineties and had a legendary iris garden before she died. As each color opened with its unique scent I made the rounds daily, sniffing, watching for bees, taking pictures.
The last to open tantalized as its buds elongated and swelled, suggesting a color I’ve never seen in an iris. (But that’s not saying much; I simply didn’t pay them that much attention until this year.) I don’t remember when I planted them, at least two years ago, or who gave them to me. Everyone who has seen them cannot get over the color, which can only be called peach.
Measuring time in irises. From now on, I’ll keep a record of whom and where each new variety comes from, because now I’m hooked. There are some bright yellow irises up the road I’ve got my eye on!
I ran into a friend at the grocery store yesterday who told me that the beehives across the canyon have had mites for years. “They’re too close to you,” she said. It was cold comfort, a theory validated that suggested once and for all it wasn’t my fault. It’s been bleak watching flowers open one by one with no honeybees to pollinate them. Until two days ago I’d only seen an occasional bee; finally, a handful in the apricot tree. Then yesterday more, and bumblebees, and tiny wild bees. As they return I feel more and more alive.
I guess I despaired of finding the same joy in photography as I did last year with my bees. And in a strange way, my pleasure is tainted knowing they’re not my bees… still, they’re bees, they’re sturdy hardy bees that are surviving, and that brings with it a more astringent joy than the wallowing I was doing the past three summers, that first inebriated love that lasts a few years before something goes awry and love becomes a choice to share in suffering.
It being Tuesday, it’s only fitting to acknowledge St. Anthony with the prayer that Amy taught me: St. Anthony please come around, let what is lost now be found. She told me years ago that he is the patron saint of finding lost things, and Tuesday is the day to make your plea. I found the bees! I am so pleased. Some of them are surely venturing farther afield, but a new flower is opening in the garden, tiny clusters of blooms on the silver buffaloberry, and the tree is buzzing with bees. Not just honeybees, but a few wasps, flies, and wild bees as well. I planted this near-native multi-trunked tree years ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it bloom. Last year I pruned it back hard for the first time, after deer had broken a lot of its spiny branches scraping their antlers. And this year, rich rewards. What’s most interesting to me is that the bees are not feeding on the open blooms, but digging into the partially opened buds prying them open with their front feet, as if to be first to the riches.
Bees and wasps were not the only treasures I found in the garden this week. Cynthia gave me some irises last fall when she thinned her burgeoning stock, and said they’d be fine left outside over winter. I’ve been looking all over for them for weeks, outside and inside, so I could get them in the ground, but nowhere could I find the black plastic pot I’d set them in to overwinter. I began to wonder if I’d actually planted them in the fall. The other day, I found them. Duh. Not in a black plastic pot at all, but in an open grocery bag inside a basket, up against the house wall where I’d passed it a dozen times a day. Oh the tricks that memory plays! I trimmed them and split them up and planted them yesterday afternoon, in an unsuccessful vegetable bed I’ve decided to dedicate to flowers.
Yes, winter will stick around overlapping with spring as it always does, but March has come like the lamb to us despite its leonine attacks on other parts of the country. Our walk through the woods this morning is chilly, but through the course of it the grey clouds part and blue sky returns with dappled sunshine. The lichens and mosses of Buck Canyon glow in their incandescent glory, lush from snowmelt, rain, and slightly warmer temperatures, from the littlest patches to the biggest.
Last week, before the big melting, when walks even midday were crisp and cold, I walked routes through the woods I would never otherwise traverse, wandering on and off trails, crossing on top of crusted pillows of snow, over prickly pear cactus slumbering in vast patches underneath, over fragile cryptobiotic soils where a footprint at the wrong time of year could last a hundred more. Bright green mosses also pillowed the north sides of many trees, lime, chartreuse, in dappled sun, vigorous with snowmelt nourishing their minute single-celled leaves.
With more snow melted this week, more mosses and lichens revealed, the forest is a riot of color I wish I could wear. Walking last summer through the woods with a friend, he said when he sees those pillows of moss he just wants to go curl up on them and sleep. I can see that. But now, when they’re so vivid, I just want to make them my wardrobe.
Enticed by lichens I crept to the canyon’s edge despite this vestigial imbalance, so improved that I walked today with a single walking stick instead of ski poles. Bending to catch a particular shot, the stick slipped from my hand and dropped through the crevice to the ground below the rim. Navigating my way down unstable stone steps to the scree slope, I groped along the layered cliff thirty or forty feet back to retrieve the stick, and looked up at the outcrop where the dogs often stand and I have stood only once or twice before.
It’s a different world down there, but I’ll delve into those mysteries when I have more time to spend there. Unsteady as I was I chose to pick up the stick and return to my proper level atop the rim. But I climbed back up slowly, smitten with all the gleaming lichens along the way, all revealed by the melting and thriving with this nourishing rain, all so muted when they’re dry.
(Wednesday: It’s been a week of slow and busy healing. It’s been a busy week for the garden itself which is throwing up iris leaves and bulb sprouts and tiny green rosettes of all kinds of flowers and weeds. And for me, despite continued dizziness, my ability to function is improving and the temptation of warm sunny days, the beckoning cleanup from last fall left undone before the snowfall, and the hint of more snow to come tomorrow has kept me pushing my limits, of mobility, balance and focus.
The redwing blackbirds sing in the trees around the pond. Ornamental clump grasses, green from inside, it’s time to cut back all of last years stalks and seed heads and scatter them where I hope to see more grow. New green grass stems are already so tall in the dry stalks I’ll have to cut them too; it would be best to cut these grasses back before new shoots have started, maybe in January. But in January they were buried!
I burned a slash pile started last fall and tarped, though wet and smoky, has burned nearly down. I’ve scavenged the yard for more loose brush, stems, and still not satisfied I started to prune small, dead, thick and tangled twigs and branches from the last untamed juniper in the yard. It’s taken a long time for me to get motivated to burn this pile, but today is the perfect day; a mild intermittent breeze, snow or rain expected tomorrow, ground wet or frozen all around, peach tree and squawbush nearby not yet wakened into bud.
Smoke floating across the yard and through the woods, filtering between the trees below the tops of junipers might look alarming to the neighbors, but they know, most of them, this time of year, such smoke is most likely exactly what this is, and not a house afire.
Once I start burning I can’t stop. It’s like the next unknown curve in the trail, just one more! I’ll turn around after the next curve… no, after the next curve. Just one more handful of dried sagebrush, just one more cutback herb, just one or two more limbs of this juniper. Those burn down, I throw on another handful, another. Finally, I’ve had enough of staggering around the yard, bending, standing, dodging smoke. Finally, I let the pile burn down to a smolder and walk away, confident that the moisture in the landscape will quickly absorb any tiny spark that might blow away. Between snows in winter is definitely the time to burn.)
I came in this morning after our mossy, lichenous walk, renewed and content, breakfasted, meditated, and stepped outside again for a breath of fresh sunshiny air to check on the garden. At last! The bees have been out scouting on warm days for weeks, and so far no flowers for them to feed on. But this morning, their intrepid explorations have been rewarded at last! The tiny crocus patch, half overgrown with lambs’ ear, is buzzing, and so is the cluster of miniature purple iris, one, three, five bees at once exploring the corollas, flinging pollen everywhere, delirious in their satisfaction, and so am I. I broke out the big camera: my season has begun.